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Reprod Sci. 2013 Aug;20(8):917-28. doi: 10.1177/1933719112468946. Epub 2013 Jan 23.

Bioinformatic analysis of benzo-α-pyrene-induced damage to the human placental insulin-like growth factor-1 gene.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA.



Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) has been associated with exposure to polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are released in the combustion of oil, fuel, gas, garbage, and tobacco. Pregnant women exposed to PAHs are at risk of the effects of these environmental toxins; for example, benzo-α-pyrene (BαP) is able to enter the blood stream and could contribute to IUGR or other developmental abnormalities via effects on the placental cells. Since IUGR has been associated with decreased cord blood concentrations of immunoreactive insulin-like growth factor 1 (ir-IGF-1) and IUGR has been associated with disordered development and fetal programming, we tested the effects of BαP on human placental trophoblast cells in culture.


IGF-1 expression and activation was studied using an immortalized human placental trophoblast cell line (HTR-8). The cells were treated with vehicle control or 1 µmol/L BαP, or 5 µmol/L BαP for 12 hours. RNA was extracted and the exons of IGF-1 were amplified using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). The ir-IGF-1 expression levels were compared using gel electrophoresis. The PCR products were sequenced, and levels of mutation were measured with comparative sequence analysis. A computational protein analysis (computer simulation) was performed in order to assess the potential impact of BαP-associated mutation on IGF-1 protein function.


The IGF-1 expression decreased considerably in BαP-treated cells relative to untreated controls (P < .05), also in a dose-dependent manner. Comparative sequence analysis indicated that the level of BαP exposure correlated with the percentage of base pair mutations in IGF-1 nucleotide sequences for both treatment groups (P < .05). Shifts were observed in the open reading frame, indicating a possible change in the IGF-1 start codon. Protein folding simulation analysis indicated that the base pair changes induced by BαP weakened IGF-1-IGF binding protein (IGFBP) interaction.


In concordance with the previous findings, exposure of human placental trophoblast cells to BαP exposure results in reduction of IGF-1 expression and base pair mutations. The direct action of BαP on the placenta indicates that it may not be necessary for BαP to access other maternal tissues in order for gene abnormalities to occur. Given that PAHs are known to work through aryl hydrocarbon hydrolase (AHH), these results are likely due to the presence of AHH in HTR cells. Computational modeling of BαP actions on IGF1, substrate-ligand binding, supports the biological premise of this work and underlines the need to determine actual biological effects rather than equating immune to bioactivity of IGF1.


IGF-1; benzo-α-pyrene (BαP); bioinformatics; fetal growth restriction (FGR); intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR); polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

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